It's the quiet child in the state's family of four oceanfront parks. Edisto Beach doesn't get the attention of Myrtle Beach, Hunting Island or Huntington Beach state parks.
And that's what makes it such a gem - it's much easier finding take-home worthy seashells or historic fossils on the beach when you're not sharing the 1.5 miles of shoreline with throngs of summer vacationers.
Located on Edisto Island about an hour southwest of Charleston, the park sits at the edge of the ACE Basin, the largest natural reserve on the East Coast. Trails wind through a maritime forest featuring some of state's tallest palmetto trees and salt marshes fed by beautiful tidal creeks.
Among the most popular is Spanish Mount Trail, a 1.7-mile flat pathway leading to the namesake 4,000-year-old shell midden. Once 20-feet high and covering half an acre, the shell mound has been eroded over the years and is now one-tenth that size. A wooden deck provides a perch to look at the layers of oyster, mussel and turtle shells that make up the "trash heap" left by Edisto Indians around 2000 B.C.
The much shorter Bache Trail takes you to a granite monument erected in 1850 by land surveyors measuring the U.S. coastline from Maine to the Gulf of Mexico. The baseline at Edisto - the oldest intact baseline - was the third of seven lines measured by survey director Alexander Bache, great-grandson of Benjamin Franklin. Two endpoint markers can still be found on the island.
For the most stunning views of the marsh, try the half-mile Scott Creek Trail. Boardwalks allow you to cross the wetlands and walk through a hammock visited regularly by egrets and herons.
Visitors can learn more about the Lowcountry ecology and the fragile resources of the ACE Basin in the Edisto Beach Environmental Learning Center. Along with interactive displays, the center offers regularly scheduled programs on a wide range of topics from fossils to erosion.
The park's 1,255 acres is broken up into three major visitor areas - the Environmental Learning Center and Live Oak Boat Landing, the Live Oak Campground and cabin area and the day-use beach access and Beach Campground.
I recently visited the park and stayed in one of seven cabins overlooking Scott Creek. The marsh view was spectacular and the cabins were fabulous. I'll tell you more about them in an upcoming blog.
Nine of the 44 campsites in this section of the park border the salt marsh, as do five walk-in rustic campsites. Another 54 campsites are available in the Beach Campground.
The park also features a boat ramp offering access to Big Bay Creek, picnic shelters and a playground.
Admission to the park is $5 for adults, $3 for children ages 6 to 15 and free for kids 5 and younger. For more information, visit Edisto Beach State Park or call (843) 869-2156.